internet cannot be regulated the same way as newspapers,
magazines, films, radio or television. By Probir Roy
Act I; scene 2 now unfolds after a very private act, which
set off a very public storm. The Baazee school-sex MMS
episode left an aftermath of a flurry of raids on cyber
cafés, seizing of mobile phones, random checks
of students'' mobile messages, scrutiny of an actress''s
emails, and a generally heightened awareness of the threat
of intrusion of hidden web cams and camera phones in people''s
government has moved quickly it has set up a committee
to suggest modifications in the five-year-old IT Act.
This provides as good a time as any to take a step back
and revisit the caveat-driven nature of the web.
the internet is the manifestation of humankind''s quest
for limitless personalised two-way ''rich'' interaction
with thought. At a point-and-a-click, the hypertext layout
allows users to change topics on a whim, travel to distant
places, gather world opinion or information on a subject
in a matter of seconds, engage in digital trade and commerce
and help in medicine and education. This nature of the
internet must be protected and perhaps even promoted by
any legislation that claims to be fair to this medium.
that seeks to concurrently regulate the internet must
continue to recognise the unique and ubiquitous nature
of the medium. The internet is not like the print medium,
the communications infrastructure industry or the audio
and visual entertainment industry. It is all, yet none
of these! To paint it with the same law brush, tempting
as it may be, or indeed even look for parallels in these
sectors, is short-sighted. This has been proven in other
parts of the world.
interaction between ''receiving'' data and ''publishing''
it is where the core of the law and its interpretation
should focus at this point. What is clear is that each
side has its rights; the online publisher has freedom
of expression and the receiver has the right to be secure
from harm in his electronic space.
a Baazee-like case, it is a tightrope walk while
direct publisher or distributor liability may not be clearly
established, clever legal arguments and overseas rulings
may not absolutely exclude it either. A recent
case in which an ordinary corporate website carried advertising
on a subject matter in violation of the provisions of
the pre-natal sex determination law, direct liability
could be attributed to the company on account of inadequate
due diligence having been exercised by it.
of the proliferating web journal, Blogger-community,
which has suddenly given power to anyone with an email
id and a the ability to put down words on a screen to
become both an electronic ''publisher'' and ''distributor''?
of law that attempt to give one side or the other an unreasonable
burden in conducting its business are doomed to failure.
Certain definitions and provisions of the Cyber Act 2000,
in their current form are clearly limiting or burdensome.
Anyone who has studied economics will endorse that the
internet is a ''flow'' an evolving medium in a 24x7
flux to find form, yet at loggerheads with it.
on the other hand are ''stocks'' and lag behind, never able
to anticipate those which they vainly attempt to govern.
A good example are our ISPs, who had to rollback their
VPN services launched in the late ''90s (which account
for a dominant part of their revenues) on account of policy
retrofitting done only in December 2004.
or inadequate use and interpretation of sections 67 and
79 could have a bearing on direct responsibility and liability
issues affecting evolving interactive service intermediaries
such as web logs, search engines, newshopper, mobile value-added
service providers and even mobile virtual network operators.
the ambiguity of privacy laws in general in India
as applicable under Article 21 of the Constitution
is that cyber laws must not hint at censorship or impinge
on the basic right of speech and expression. They may
regulate the labelling on the ''packaging'', but never the
recently, major US mobile carriers offered adult content
as a premium service, till they voluntarily withdrew it,
even though US regulations preclude service providers
from acting as content gatekeepers and censoring content
in any way. And what of some news sites being subpoenaed
to reveal their source of information! Clearly the same
''standards'' don''t seem to apply in the real world.
foundation of the internet rests on the bedrock of technological
innovation. Therefore, while technology is clearly the
enabler, it is also keenly limiting and can impact current
interpretations of due diligence. Talk about monitoring
and regulating content on the net through the use of advanced
technology and methods like filtering, labelling and rating,
have been in vogue at various points of time. Given the
varied technical nature of the protocols involved, it
is likely that filtering tools will do very well with
some of these, and extremely poorly with others.
example, filtering software can easily block access to
newsgroups with names like ''alt.sex''. However, no technology
can identify the presence of sexually explicit images
in a file that''s being transferred. Keyword-based blocking,
as used by Baazee or by MSN''s blogger service (MSN Space),
uses text searches to categorise data. If a posting or
site contains objectionable words or phrases, it is blocked.
Yet any internet buff knows that, at best, keyword searching
is a crude and inflexible approach that is likely to block
sites that should not be blocked while letting ''adult''
content pass through unblocked.
and filtering has two key shortcomings: First, keyword
searches cannot use contextual information. Searches can
identify the presence of certain words in a text, but
they cannot evaluate the context in which those words
are used. For example, a search might find the word ''breast''
on a web page, but it cannot determine whether that word
was used in a murgh masala recipe, an erotic story,
or in an scientific piece on infant nutrition.
keyword searches cannot interpret graphics. It is not
currently possible to ''search'' the contents of a picture.
Therefore, a page containing sexually explicit pictures
will be blocked only if it is accompanied by text on the
same page as the picture and the page contains one or
more words from the list of words to be blocked. Ratings
systems, on the other hand, imply making value judgements
to categorise various types of content. Users are limited
to choosing between a small number of ratings systems,
each of which has its own biases and viewpoints.
origin of the internet was found in defence programmes
at DARPA in the ''60s. But its 21st century progeny in
the avatars of ''darknets'' anonymous service providers;
underground P2P networks (which operate at the fuzzy edge
of institutional acceptability) and proliferating
''Blog services'' will have rule makers of any ilk scratching
their heads long into the future. So, whether the wise
men in recently constituted committees and groups really have the
measure of key issues at hand or vice versa is something
one hopes to track and keep readers of this column informed.